Being one of the lucky handful of individuals to have received an advanced copy of Scott Raab’s soon-to-be released book, I set out to ferociosuly tear through the 300 pages and provide the readers of WFNY with a semi-definitive review. And then yesterday happened.
Not 24 hours after the black and gold-covered memoirs landed on the desks of us sporting types, two extremely well-written reviews hit the interwebs that I would not even consider attempting to trump. If these posts represent the off-Jack, the big dog is most certainly buried because my hand is ace-no-face at the very best.
First, from Cleveland Jackson over at Stepien Rules:
The book is an autobiography about that survival and evolution of a man. A memoir in tight readable perfectly prepared prose. And Lebron James is part foil, part antagonist, part cautionary figure, and part vehicle as an emblem of historical undeserving disrespect. This is the book that Scott Raab, a former 12 year old attendant to the last sports championship in Cleveland, was born to write.
Raab in The Whore Of Akron is the personification of us, of a skyline made of nearly perfect but always flawed desires, of a river of unnatural abilities and heroes destined to crush instead of lift. Of a Miracle at Richfield short circuited by the broken foot of Jim Chones and of another championship run doomed by Michael Jordan’s excellence and Danny Ferry’s defects. Written in form uniquely accessible enough to make a snotty nosed kid from California who has never actually found himself in a gutter contemplate a poetic vomit encrusted Bukowski-like hangover headache.
And secondly, though by no means a 1A to C-Jack’s numero uno, is John Krolik’s longform over at Cavs The Blog:
I’ve read countless sports books over the course of my life, and The Whore of Akron was the fourth book I have read about LeBron James. (I skipped LeBron’s Dream Team, nee Shooting Stars; the fact that its author actively loathes LeBron now made me suspicious of the book, but mostly I had no interest in reading a re-hash of how great of an idea it was for LeBron to have his high-school friends run his life. None whatsoever.)
Anyways, the point of all this is that Raab’s book is nothing like any LeBron book or athlete biography (even Michael Leahy’s scathing When Nothing Else Matters, which chronicled Michael Jordan’s fiasco of a comeback with the Wizards) I’ve ever read, and bears little resemblance to any sports book I’ve ever read. In fact, the book is far more similar to Charles Bukowski’s Hollywood than it is to anything David Halberstam or John Feinstein has ever written. [...]
Raab’s book is also a post-sports blog creation — it would have been almost impossible to imagine a writer of Raab’s stature writing a full-length sports book with so many declarations of loyalty to a team and a city, so much hatred directed at those who he felt betrayed his city, the aforementioned bursts of profanity, so many autobiographical anecdotes, and some unsourced rumors thrown in for good measure — some are presented as rumors, some are presented as fact, some are 100% believable, and some are tough to take without a grain (or shaker) of salt. It is a book written without access, favor to the players who gave him access, or discretion — the Deadspin credo. On top of everything else, The Whore of Akron may be the first full-length book produced by a successful mainstream writer in the blog era.
And after getting the chance to absorb WoA on my own, not one word either of these aforementioned men wrote is inaccurate. Those who thought that this book was about LeBron James and all the evil he represents within the confines of a Rustbelt town could not have been more wrong. Sure, James plays a large role in the book – his silhouette is on the cover. But flip that bad boy over and you see a Chief Wahoo as well as Raab’s ticket to the 1964 NFL Championship game – an event which plays an extremely large role throughout.
Raab speaks as a Cleveland fan, one who has seen more disappointment, as a 59-year-old man, than any of the writers at this very site. He spares no detail with regard to his personal demons (drugs, alcohol, obesity, etc), but also holds no punches when it comes to integral characters like James, Art Modell and Danny Ferry. And if any one passage resonated the most with me, it is the following:
[S]ometimes when I come back I park across the street and wonder how I ever made it out alive. All the socres I’ll never settle, all the debts I can’t repay, all my ghosts await me here.
And not only my ghosts. The whole place groans, sagging under fifty years of pain and rage. It is forever fourth down and 98 yards to go here, the Broncos’ ball, with the Browns four minutes from their first Super Bowl; forever the ninth inning of Game 7, the Tribe leading by a run, three outs away from their first World Series win since 1948; forever the last second of Game 5 against the Bulls in 1989, with the Cavaliers up one and Michael Jordan with the ball.
Cleveland is each of those things plus a score or two more – the roaring silence that each failure has left frozen in its wake, here where hoe and despair, love and hate, joy and sorrow, are inseparable. It is my favorite place on earth, the only home I’ll ever truly have.
Aiming to not give away too much more of the story, I’ll opt to echo Krolik in saying that, above all else, this book is about self-awareness. As if piped directly from the “prose factory,” to borrow a term from the great Vince Grzegorek, WoA verbally sprays Contra-esque warfare on behalf of Cleveland. Rarely will anyone who picks this book up be able to fully relate to the trials and tribulations of all aspects of Raab’s life. Surely we have seen many of the plays and games which are described in eloquent detail; some of us may have even had a run-in or two with stealing to stay fed. But at the root, this book is about passion. It’s about years of misery and frustration. And it’s about hope.
All it takes is one scroll to the top of this very page to see what WFNY’s credo is. And if you can stomach a few ounces of profanity for the good of the cause, this is a book that all Cleveland sports fans will have on their shelves as we await our chance to experience what Raab did at the young age of 12-years old. A championship in Cleveland.